I traveled to Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico, a city at the foot of the Popocatepetl volcano surrounded by fertile land and agricultural communities. Against the backdrop of the global economic recession of 2008, the Tianguis, an expansive open air market, is regulated by a town council and prepares for business at dawn on Tuesdays and Saturdays. People come to sell corn, endless varieties of chili peppers, fruits, vegetables, cactus, flowers, and beans from the fields of Atlixco and the surrounding villages. Buyers come to have a hot meal and pick up provisions for the week.
Tianquiztli in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, is harvest, the root word for tianguis. The Tianguis were the central form of commerce in the Aztec era, and today the buying and selling of ancient grains continues as hands touch, bills are exchanged, and bartering is revived. Women play a major role as vendors, managers and buyers in the bazaar. The Tanguis has evolved to offer contemporary applicances, clothing, shoes, and electronics. Tianguis raise a substantial portion of the city’s income, and contribute to the overall economy. People come to the tianguis for social activity, a feast at every angle, and may be careful to steer away from counterfeit perfume, endangered species or plants, and contraband medicine.
Although the regions of Puebla, Oaxaca and Guerrero have been depopulated as people come to the United States to find work in urban centers and in farming regions, the tianguis remain a vibrant part of the community. Over the years in New York, I have met family and friends from Atlixco, working in New York, and I photographed there to see what it is like for those who stayed behind.